Women’s Quality of Life a Border Concern

Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor

Although the growth of the border region is bringing more women into the work force, and therefore women are gaining new independence, there are other consequences to the region’s growth and many of them do not lead to an improved lifestyle for women. The rate of teen age pregnancy is increasing, as is the number of sexual crimes against women. Additionally, the more women that enter the work place leaves that many more women subject to the harassing behavior of their male superiors. However, experts and activists are on the move, and lending their voices and knowledge about the issues seems to be the first item on many agendas in order to bring improvements to the quality of life for women in the Cd. Juárez/El Paso border region.

Teenage Pregnancies on the Rise Again

The number of teenage pregnancies continues to increase on the border and this, according to a March 20 article in El Norte de la Cd. Juárez, can be attributed to the persistent population growth, worsening social conditions and lack of education.

In 1999, the department of community health reported that 25 percent of the 4,617 attended births at the public Family Hospital (SADEC-FEMAP) were to females younger than 19 years old. Although the average age for the teen moms was 16, there are often cases of eleven and twelve-year-old girls giving birth. The state of Chihuahua has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation according to the El Norte special report.

Because of a dramatic increase in teen births from 1976 through 1982 (approximately 30 percent of all attended births), a statewide education program was initiated. By 1992, teenage pregnancies had decreased to 22.7 percent of all attended births. However, with the increase of immigration to the north through the nineties and continuing, there are many young women who have not been educated on pregnancy prevention methods, and teenage pregnancy rates are up again to 25 percent.

Enrique Suárez y Toriello, executive director of the Cd. Juárez Community Health and Development, said that teenage pregnancy is increasing across the country but particularly in the northern states.

“The rate increases daily despite the work that we do, and it seems futile because of the continued acceleration in population,” said Suárez y Toriello. Suárez y Toriello also explained that 40 years ago teen age pregnancy was not alarming, not even mothers of 11 or 12 years was that abnormal, however, today, the society is just not designed for it. “Girls are passing from childhood to adulthood by acquiring motherhood at a very early age, and this does not fit with the realities of today’s world.”

According to the program director, giving birth is more difficult for teens, and too often the fathers are not involved in serious relationships with the mothers or the child(ren). Less than 50 percent of adolescents who are sexually active use contraceptives.

According to Patricia Vásquez, psychologist and coordinator for the Student Health and Orientation Program (COBE) at the Universidad Autónoma of Cd. Juárez (UACJ), a change in social and family values has lead to the increased teen birth rate. “In many families, both parents work, therefore, adolescents are left alone. Women are taking a more active role in society, and therefore her time is not often dedicated to family. So there is a shift in values.” Vásquez sees the nuclear family as social entity that is disappearing.

The psychologist is demanding that the public health department initiate a stronger education program to decrease the number of teen pregnancies which often result in grandparents raising the children and mothers playing the role of sibling to their own children. “There is a confusion of roles in our society.”

She also believes it is time that sexuality not be a taboo subject, and that it not be distinguished, as it too often is, as something separate from love, responsibility, self esteem and respect. Parents need to be trained in how to talk to their children realistically about sexuality, including the imminent dangers of AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and early pregnancy.

Abortion Debate Rages In México’s Capital

In early April, Mexican women’s organizations, according to La Reforma, demanded that presidential candidates and federal legislators guarantee all women the right to a safe abortion when the mother has been raped, the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, the baby is not healthy or there are economic concerns. Currently states in México have legislation over the specifics of a national law banning abortion.

In the April 6 forum “For the Right to Choose,” it was reported that at least two thirds of Mexican women would consider aborting a pregnancy voluntarily, and therefore, the group protested the influential anti-abortion stance of the Catholic Church and the PAN party.

Patricia Mercado, president of the political group Diverse (Diversa), said, “It is unacceptable that the debate about abortion continues when it is known that the great majority of the population believes that abortion should be decriminalized.”

The spokesperson also noted that it was ridiculous that the decision to abort an unwanted child by a pregnant 13-year-old girl who had been raped was in the hands of church officials, a hospital director and an attorney general in Mexicali, Baja California where the young girl was denied the right to a safe abortion.

Also, in April, the Reproductive Choice Information Resource (GIRE) distributed fifty thousand brochures across the country in the form of a comic book which addresses important questions about abortion including the ongoing debates around related health and moral issues.

Finally, at the April event, midwives from the states of Chiapas and Michoacán addressed the dangers that regularly occur when women try to abort their unwanted pregnancies themselves.

Anti-Choice Movement Exported from U.S. To Border

According to the April/May 2000 issue of Ms., the “latest U.S. export to México is the anti-choice movement which is trying to mobilize the Mexican public to eliminate abortion under all circumstances.”

The debate is currently raging in Nuevo León, where a “no exception” ban on abortion is being considered by the state congress. At a recent rally Deputy Maria Elena Chapa felt powerless when verbally attacked and physically restrained from entering a congressional assembly by anti-choice activists who are largely supported by U.S. organizations. “I felt powerless. I could not respond to the insults. The people were shouting, calling me an abortionist.”

According to Ms., the Mexican Ministry of Health reported that 1,500 women die from unsafe abortions each year in México and in 1990 over a hundred thousand women were hospitalized due to complications from unsafe abortions.

Prison sentences for abortions are approximately three years, however, if the proposal passes in Monterey, Nuevo León, a sentence could be increased to 12 years.

Juárez Woman Awaits Sentencing For Abortion Charge

Yolanda Alvarez Chávez, the 20-year-old woman jailed in January in Cd. Juárez because she had an abortion, was fined 5,000 pesos (U.S. $500) in late March and will not be released from prison until the fine is paid.

When Chávez was 19 years old, she took 20 Sitotecc tablets, a stomach medicine not recommended for pregnant women, and was admitted into a Red Cross clinic where it was determined that she had ingested the medicine to induce the abortion of a pregnancy in its third month.

Crisis Center Takes In One Million Pesos In First Telethon

In its first fund raising telethon, Casa Amiga received one million pesos (approximately U.S. $100,000) by its midnight deadline on May 7. The crisis center in Cd. Juárez serves women and their families who are experiencing problems related to domestic violence or violence against women.

Although the center had hoped to reach 150 thousand dollars by their early May deadline, the organizers still feel that the telethon was a success. Professional and Business Women of Cd. Juárez organized and sponsored the event.

“The most important thing that happened was that we made the community aware that a horrible problem of mistreatment and aggression against women and children exists in our community, and that we can all be a part of the solution,” said Sofia Badillo de Vázquez, president of the organizing group.

The telethon included 14 telephone lines, it ran for twelve hours, and in the final hours Cd. Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo donated 100 thousand pesos in the name of the city and city council and invited authorities from all levels of the government to support Casa Amiga.

The center was opened by Esther Chávez Cano in February of 1999 and provides psychological, legal and medical assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. According to Chávez, the funding will go towards improvement of services for the center’s clients, and the number of clients continues to increase.

Nine Percent of Female Employees Face Sexual Harassment from Superiors

According to a May 14 report in El Norte, sexual harassment is so common in the work place in México that nine out of each 100 female workers reports problems from their immediate male supervisor or superiors at a higher level. Productivity is believed to be gravely reduced and enormous economic losses can be attributed to the behavior of these men.

These statistics were presented at an international conference held in México City and attended by specialists from the U.S., Canada, Holland and México. Stiff punishments were called for by representatives of all four countries, but it was also noted that the problems need to be addressed early on in the school systems.

Elen Bravo, a spokesperson from the National Association of Workers in the U.S., said that the problem is particularly evident in the maquila industry where workers are often young, and working in the country illegally. The problem increases even more, she said, when the U.S. businesses have maquilas in Latin America. The harassment succeeds because the women’s jobs or immigration status are used as threats

In México, in particular, reform of the Federal Employment Laws was discussed to include prevention of harassing situations and sanctioning of the people who perpetrate the discriminating behavior.

Corine van Der Vlliet, a representative from Holland, reported that the European Union estimates an annual loss of approximately five million dollars due to absenteeism caused by workers uncomfortable due to harassment.

Local Activist Speaks Out on Discrimination in the Workplace

Victoria Caraveo, president of Women For Juárez (Mujeres por Juárez), spoke before a women’s rights conference in early May in Cd. Juárez and said that women are discriminated against in the workplace from the moment they are hired and required to present negative results on a pregnancy test. She also complained that most women workers are not allowed time off during the weekend, the best time for them to spend time with their children.

“Definitely inside the maquila business there is no respect paid to the human rights of women,” Caraveo said according to El Norte.

Caraveo said that Cd. Juárez is experiencing more violence against women than other cities in México, and it is due not only to the increase of population but to the lack of infrastructure to support it.

Young Woman Murdered In Cd. Chihuahua

On May 12 the raped and strangled body of Jaquelín Cristina Sánchez Hernández, 14, was found in Los Nogales arroyo in the northern part of Cd. Chihuahua. According to a witness, the girl was seen the day before with a young man in the area that her body was found .

César Acosta, 29, who discovered the body, told authorities that he had seen the girl with a boy on Thursday afternoon in the same location where he later found the body, and they appeared to be engaged in sexual activity. The next day while working in the area he found Sánchez and called the authorities.

Most of the girl’s clothing could not be located, and when found she was only wearing a shirt and a bra. Authorities continue to investigate the crime and said that Sánchez had been reported missing on two other occasions.

Sexual Crimes Increasing on the Border

According to a report by the Sexual and Family Crimes Special Unit, sexual crimes are on the increase in Cd. Juárez, and from the seven weeks between March 12 and April 26, there were almost daily reports of rapes and sexual abuse.

There were 41 rapes reported and 45 sexual abuse reports in the seven week period, and according to Zulema Bolívar, 90 per cent of the men responsible for the crimes were arrested.

Killers of El Paso Woman Receive Maximum Sentences

Jesse Avalos and Jason Desnoyers, convicted of raping and murdering an El Paso woman, both received maximum sentences in April.

Desnoyers, 24, received a life sentence plus 35 years, and he will not be eligible for parole until 47 years are served. Avalos received a life sentence plus 62 years, and he must serve 31 years before he can be considered for parole.

Carly Martinez,18, disappeared from the campus of New Mexico State University in January of 1998, and her body was found in the desert outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with the assistance of Jesse Avalos in March of that year. Allegedly, she had gone out drinking with the two men and then they took her to the desert and raped her and stabbed her to death. The two convicted killers blamed the crime on each other.

An earlier report in the Albuquerque Journal said that Desnoyers’ parents owned a small maquila in Cd. Juárez, and that Desnoyers had worked there.

Sources: El Diario, El Norte, El Paso Times, Las Cruces Sun News, Ms., Albuquerque Journal

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